Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to reintroduce the National Emergency Centers Establishment Act, a bill that I first introduced in the 109th Congress. This legislation authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make use of already closed military facilities to coordinate emergency response and provide voluntary humanitarian assistance to Americans displaced by natural disasters.
From Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Sandy, and numerous other destructive disasters, we have seen time and time again how emergency relief efforts can be complex, expensive, and oftentimes chaotic. Despite the extraordinary efforts can be complex, expensive, and oftentimes chaotic. Despite the extraordinary efforts of agencies like FEMA, the American Red Cross, and other local and national organizations to provide immediate relief, natural disasters can leave tens of thousands of Americans struggling for long periods of time. Sixteen months after Hurricane Katrina, 60,000 Americans were still ill-housed, and struggling to access adequate food and health care, education and jobs. I have seen similar effects following hurricanes in my home state of Florida.
While disaster preparedness, response, and recovery has improved greatly in recent years, difficult challenges remain. I believe that we must increase the availability of temporary housing in times of national emergencies, and improve training and preparedness for national emergencies in order to ensure that we can mitigate as much as possible the humanitarian catastrophes that occurred in the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Coast, and elsewhere in the nation.
My legislation authorized FEMA to establish six National Emergency Centers throughout the United States. The Centers will be used to provide temporary housing, medical and humanitarian assistance for individuals and families displaced due to an emergency. The Centers will also serve as a centralized location for the training and coordination of first responders in the instance of an emergency. In addition, the Centers will improve the coordination of preparedness, response, and recovery efforts between governments, private companies, not-for-profit entities and faith-based organizations.
I would like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that the use of these facilities would be totally voluntary on the part of displaced Americans. No federal agency is authorized under this legislation to force anyone to evacuate to these facilities, nor to force those who voluntarily arrive there to remain longer than they wish. The goal is to provide the facility and means for Americans displaced by disasters to continue leading their lives as much as possible.
The National Emergency Centers will be located on military bases that have been closed during the most recent Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) round. I am proposing these sites because the necessary infrastructure to house, feed, and care for evacuees over an extended period of time is already in place, thus limiting the cost and time needed to construct these facilities. Military bases often contain large warehouses or hangers, ideal locations for storing large amounts of supplies and equipment. Finally, military bases are often accessible by a wide range of transportation links, and may themselves have train yards or airstrips capable of facilitating the rapid disbursement of supplies or relief efforts.
Mr. Speaker, we have an obligation to better prepare and more adequately respond to the needs of communities hit by natural disasters. Furthermore, we must ensure that basic needs of disaster victims are met immediately following the devastation. The goal of this legislation is to improve humanitarian relief to individuals and families displaced and suffering from the effects of a natural disaster. The idea is to have an accessible central location that can house large numbers of people while providing for their immediate medical and daily needs.
I ask my colleagues to support this legislation, and urge the House Leadership to bring this bill to the floor for its swift consideration.